Re-Thinking Diversity Recruiting, Part 3

Diversity recruiting is becoming more and more important as the world becomes more global. At first, legal compliance was the primary driver behind most diversity recruiting. But now organizations have learned that if they want to operate around the world they must be able to recruit and retain individuals who are “different” than those who are in the majority at corporate headquarters.

In other words, it’s important to recruit diverse individuals not only because many corporations must operate facilities at multiple locations around the globe, but also because they need diverse-thinking individuals to design products that will be in high demand in every major country. In a global economy, having a diverse workforce is no longer an option. It has become an absolute requirement for success in a global economy.

In Part 3 of this series on re-thinking diversity recruiting, I will highlight the long-term action steps that must be taken to empower a world-class diversity recruiting effort. If you missed Part 1 or Part 2 of this series, it is advised that you read them first.

Hire and Train World-Class Recruiters

To develop a world-class recruiting capability in your firm, it’s necessary to counter two myths head-on. First, not everyone can be an effective recruiter. Second, coming from a diverse background is not enough to make you a great diversity recruiter.

Excellent recruiters are in general aggressive individuals with strong sales skills. Developing such professionals can take time and money. If you are trying to build an effective recruiting function quickly, it is recommended that you hire experienced recruiting professionals who currently possess these traits rather than trying to develop them. Some organizations have had success in taking diverse individuals and training them to be recruiters, but unless these individuals possess a sales mentality from the outset, don’t expect immediate results. Recruiting diverse individuals does require an understanding of diversity, but it turns out that the essential skills for successful diversity recruiting go beyond understanding the complexities of diverse populations.

Most people in diversity recruiting functions are diverse by definition, but rarely come from a professional recruiting background. While results vary, in general, recruiters that are diverse produce no better diversity recruiting results than non-diverse recruiters that are ranked as top performers. The skills required to recruit excellent diverse individuals are the same skills required to recruit any excellent individual.

These skills include a “find a way” attitude, knowledge of effective recruiting techniques, experience using marketing research tools, and a strong sales ability. What matters in successful diversity recruiting is the ability of these excellent recruiters to apply their experience and expertise to the specific case of diverse individuals, just as they would to any other high-potential candidate that has been identified. There are specific approaches you can take to attract and retain headhunter-type recruiters, including:

  • Ask your diverse managers and employees to identify the diversity recruiters who have contacted them were effective on the phone. Have the top performing members of your existing recruiting team assess each individual on the list, and poach the best.
  • No one knows how to sell people better than salespeople, so you might want to consider involving your sales force in your diversity recruiting efforts. When trained and incentivized correctly, sales professionals make excellent recruiters. Also ask your sales force to help train your recruiters in the latest sales techniques. Because salespeople are constantly meeting hundreds of people each week, it’s smart to encourage them to actively participate in the employee referral program.
  • There’s little argument that the best recruiters in the world come out of executive search. They are aggressive and results oriented. Unfortunately, there are few diverse people in executive search. Even fewer of those make it into the corporate diversity arena because of the pay differential. If you want the very best, be prepared to poach from executive search firms and to pay top dollar.

Extensive Market Research Is Needed

Diversity programs often fail to utilize the latest market research available and apply it to diversity recruiting efforts. Market research can contribute to DRPs in two important ways: identifying candidate demographics and identifying their job-selection decision criteria. A significant portion of recruiting is really about identifying what candidates need and then selling them on the notion that your company will satisfy those needs. As a result, it’s important to start with a basic understanding of “whom” you are trying to sell to.

Market research helps you understand the basic demographics of your target candidates. We estimate that as much as half of the diversity candidates that are lost are lost as a result of poor market research. The steps that diversity recruiting managers need to take include:

  • Identify diverse individuals within your organization and find out how you could “find them again.” This is a process of developing a behavioral profile of your current diverse employees based on the premise that it can be used to find other diverse people within that job function and industry.
  • Conduct market research to identify the common demographic characteristics of the diverse population you are targeting. This should be drawn from your current diverse top performers and your targeted candidates. It’s important to know precisely what they read, what they watch, and where they go in order to design recruiting programs that can effectively reach them. Specifically, look at conferences they attend, organizations they join, websites they visit, and chat rooms they frequent. This generally requires hiring an outside firm or working in collaboration with your advertising department (which may already have this data).
  • Identify the specific decision criteria used by diverse candidates when they choose an industry and a company to select a new job.Great recruiting can only occur based on a foundation of excellent market research. Recruiting is similar to sales. You’re trying to sell a product (in this case a job) to someone. Great market research that gathers demographic, focus group, and survey information can provide information you need to identify key decision criteria close the deal.
  • Identify networks within a function or your industry. Start by identifying any key opinion leaders or well-connected individuals who can serve as advisers or even referral sources for identifying diverse candidates.

Improve Program Measurement and Metrics

You can’t improve what you don’t measure, and most DRPs are weak on measurement. Keeping program measures a secret allows mediocre results to be maintained over a long period of time. It’s easy for managers to give excuses about why diversity recruiting can’t work, but metrics can dramatically show that others are succeeding. It is also important to involve the finance department early on in metric development to ensure that the program measures are aligned with standard business measures. This helps to improve program credibility among the always-cynical finance group and other managers who have to deal with more precise or tangible measures on a regular basis, i.e. the rest of the business world outside HR. Most programs lack periodic performance metrics (numerical measures) for continuous improvement. Effective diversity recruiting programs need to measure at the very least:

  • Which sources produce the best candidates
  • Why offers are rejected
  • Why diverse workers quit
  • The performance or quality of the hires
  • Which managers have an excellent reputation for diversity recruiting results
  • Diversity retention rates
  • Diversity recruiting results by manager and business unit

Work On Poaching Currently Employed Individuals

Most programs (diversity or not) focus primarily on attracting active candidates (an active candidate is someone who is currently unemployed or is actively looking for a job). The initial problem with active candidates is that at any one time less than 20% of the workforce is actively looking for a job. This means if you focus on active candidates you are ignoring 80 percent of the population.

Another reason why diversity recruiting programs often focus on active candidates is because many diversity recruiting managers and many diversity recruiters are not experienced or trained in the difficult task of poaching away the best candidates from other companies. Their lack of experience causes them to take the easy way out. Because finding an active candidate is relatively easy (since most of them find you), recruiters get in the habit of using shallow and simplistic recruiting tools and strategies.

A third reason to avoid active candidates is that currently employed professionals are much more likely to be better performers (than an equivalently sized pool of unemployed candidates would be), particularly because diverse professionals and top performers are in such high demand.

The quality of unemployed candidates can be so low that they seldom make it through the final selection process, meaning that the search must begin again which is a considerable waste of organizational time, money and energies. Because of all these factors, it is important for diversity programs to focus on poaching away currently employed talent. Some of the best approaches for identifying and recruiting passive (employed professionals) candidates include:

  • Know the competition. In the same sense that high-performing organizations know other companies, know their competition, and know their cluster for tracking key innovations and technology developments, DRP managers need to know what’s going on with the people in their own organization and other organizations.
  • Identify diverse individuals who write articles, give speeches or win awards. Build a relationship with them over time and identify their “job switching” criteria. Keep in touch with them so that the minute they become frustrated in their current job you can make them an offer.
  • Identify diverse individuals at professional meetings, trade fairs, and charity and social events. Build a relationship with them and make them friends of your company. Periodically send them electronic newsletters, offer them product discounts, or invite them to training events at your company in order to build a relationship that may someday lead to a hire.
  • Identify association leaders for referrals. Attending the events sponsored by diversity groups can be effective, but the competition is high, and often attendance includes a large number of people who are active job seekers. Consider focusing on the organization’s leadership and ask them to be referral sources for currently employed professionals.
  • Consider sponsoring contests or awards for professional organizations. Use the information you gather, particularly from the application process, to identify potential candidates.

These steps, in combination with developing world-class recruiters, will yield powerful long-term and consistent results for identifying and then securing star diverse recruits. The only thing better than knowing you’ve just successfully recruited a star diverse recruit is knowing that you’ve just successfully wooed and stolen that star diverse recruit from your fiercest competitor!

Devote Equal Attention to Orientation and Retention

Finding diverse employees is important, but keeping them is equally as important. Great recruiting can go out the window immediately after a candidate has been hired as a result of inadequate employee orientation. Because many people ask their friends during their first week on a new job what it’s like there, an effective orientation program can be an important marketing and recruiting tool to attract future hires. Remember if your current new hires tell their friends that your firm stinks, it will be almost impossible to recover from that bad reputation within the often closely-knit diversity community. Unless managers are measured and rewarded for retaining diverse workers you are liable to lose your very best in this competitive market. The key points to remember here are:

  • Orientation is important. Diverse candidates may need specialized help in understanding the corporate culture in order to get off to a fast start. Helping diverse individuals get a mentor, hooking them up with affinity groups (internal clubs or organizations made up of people with similar interests), and continually asking them how they’re doing can all go a long way toward improving their success rate.
  • Retention is important. It is essential to evaluate and reward managers based on their success in retaining diverse workers. Diverse employee turnover rates need to be measured and reported independently of all other turnover. Also, because not all managers or employees understand the unique needs of diverse employees, it’s important to continually educate managers and employees about diversity issues. It is equally important to periodically survey individual diverse employees about what frustrates them.


It is clear that achieving excellence in diversity recruiting requires the same kind of organizational attention as any other major strategic effort. What is needed is focus, persistence, setting tough goals and adhering to tough evaluation standards. Strong leadership and management support are necessary so that your diversity recruiting program doesn’t become routine and stale. The interests and demands of diversity candidates are constantly changing, and diversity recruiting programs need to be responsive to those changes in order to be dynamic. The time has come to update your tools and strategies and to reinvigorate diversity recruiting. By borrowing the tools and strategies that have proven so effective in high-tech during the last few years and adapting them to diversity recruiting, you will dramatically improve the results you get from your diversity recruiting program.

About Dr John Sullivan

Dr John Sullivan is an internationally known HR thought-leader from the Silicon Valley who specializes in providing bold and high business impact; strategic Talent Management solutions to large corporations.

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